It’s been five years since Theresa and Tony returned from serving in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region along with their two daughters. While it’s hard to pinpoint the most significant lesson they learned from the experience, they agree that life here in the States looks and feels different now. They approach life differently, handling decisions in a way that is Spirit-led, as opposed to being led by personal ideas or beliefs. “It’s about Christ, it’s not about us,” Tony shared. Ultimately, their own hearts and lives have been forever transformed throughout their journey as goers.
During their first year of marriage, Theresa and Tony lived overseas after he received a job transfer to the Middle East. Back in Austin years later, they eagerly encouraged a family in their MC who were going to serve as goers in that same region. They still had very fond memories of the people and culture there. As they recalled their time overseas, God began stirring a desire in their own hearts to go back. Around this same time, The Austin Stone cast their vision of sending 100 goers, and Tony joined the 100 People Network Leadership Team. God began orchestrating all of the moving pieces, and it became increasingly clear that they too were being called to go.
Leaving their careers was the biggest challenge as Tony and Theresa moved closer to a launch date. They had spent 25 years working in the corporate world and leaving that success behind was incredibly difficult. Theresa remembers how abandoning the financial security of paychecks and retirement seemed foolish to many, but she learned to trust God, to give up control, and to step out in faith.
They also faced criticism for moving with their teenage daughters out of fear for their safety in the Middle East. Theresa acknowledges that, as parents, they wanted to provide the best life for their kids in America, but she did not want to stand in the way of the blessings God had for them. In retrospect, Tony posed the question, “How could we not have taken them to the Middle East?” Tony and Theresa were strong proponents of sharing the experience as a family and found comfort in knowing that God would bless the children of goers on their journey.
Even after their older daughter suffered a life-threatening illness a couple of months before their launch date, they remained steadfast in prayer to let God lead the way. As they obediently took steps to embrace God’s plan, they felt a growing sense of peace. Their MC was incredibly supportive throughout these challenges. “Let’s just keep praying about it,” they told Theresa and Tony. “Let’s see if God is going to open the doors, and let’s see how He opens them.” Tony recalls initially having very little peace about going into the field. By the time they boarded the plane to MENA, however, Tony said “it was one hundred percent peace.”
The four of them moved in August 2012 to their city in MENA. Through their partner organization, they managed a staff of Christian teachers and admin for a Muslim-owned school in the city. While Theresa and her older daughter worked in the school, Tony served on the business side of the operations. They were encouraged by the fact that they could use their administrative talents from corporate America to serve in their city. After their initial commitment of two years, none of them wanted to leave and they decided to extend their stay for two additional years.
As early members of the 100 People Network, there were no Advocacy Teams, but their MC at the time played an integral role in supporting them in the field. “They were as big a part of this mission as we were,” said Tony. Recalling the scripture Romans 10:14-15, he believes that it’s a team effort. It’s never just the goers—the senders play a vital role as well. They were blessed with an MC that shared their vision, prayed for them when they struggled, and provided for practical and emotional needs.
Tony and Theresa admit that building relationships with the Muslim community was a slow process. They were able to eventually develop genuine friendships, some of which continue to this day. During their years in the field, they had the opportunity to walk alongside Muslim men, women, and teenagers, and emulate the love of Christ to them through actions and conversations. Tony and Theresa learned that as goers, you may never see fruit, but the focus should be on joining in other people’s work, whether that means reaping or sowing.
Tony adds that if we have a posture of humility and let the Holy Spirit lead us, God will use our gifts and our shortcomings. “All I can do is be obedient in the process,” he said.
Since returning five years ago, they have gained a wider perspective on how we can each play a part in growing God’s kingdom. The family agrees that goers need people here—they need support and prayer. These roles are just as important as the calling to go out in the field.
Tony and Theresa continue to serve in their new roles in Austin. After moving back, Tony joined the staff at The Austin Stone, where he now serves the church in their care and support of goers. The MC support that greatly encouraged them on the field has driven Tony to ensure goers today have that same support from their Advocacy Team, both while in the field and upon returning to the States. Theresa has since returned to her previous career, and has a new zeal for ministering to her team as manager. Her focus is no longer on success in the corporate world, but in serving those around her just as she did in MENA. “Our mission with God isn’t just our time in the field, it’s lifelong,” said Tony. Whether here in Austin, or in the field, may we all humbly lean into the role God has for each of us, and support each other on the journey.